2009 Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution MR Review

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Until the Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution actually reached US shores, the turbocharged “sports” sedan – really, “sports” is an understatement – was just a figment of the imagination that could only be enjoyed through a round on Gran Turismo. And it was made even worse by the demise of other Japanese sports car platforms – the Supra, MR2, RX-7 and NSX. It seemed Japanese car makers forgot about drivers on the other side of the Pacific.

That seems like ancient history now as Mitsubishi launched the newest iteration of the Evolution – the X – in 2008. With a completely new chassis (CZ4A) and engine (4B11 turbo), the 3rd generation of the Evo was put to pasture. Considering that yours truly and our feature editor, RevnRen, both own Evos – IX MR and VIII GSR, respectively – RevdCars.com has a soft spot for these 4-door speed demons. Needless to say, we wanted to give the X MR a thorough examination and, admittedly, bashing to determine if the evolution of the Evolution was in the right direction.

First Impressions

We won’t delve too much into the design of the new Evo, as form tends to be a very subjective kinda thing. But we do want to note a few things about the goings on outside and inside the CZ4A.

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  • The look is a complete departure from anything else seen before in the Evolution family. The front end is reminiscent of the Nissan BNR34 GT-R, with a blunt nose and high surface area for the intercooler and radiator. The belt line is now taller, creating a more cocooned feel inside the cockpit. The rear end looks much taller as a result of this as well, making the previous generation Evo look like a Ooompa Loompa from the Charlie and the Chocolate Factory children’s story.
  • The Recaro seats featured in the X are a far better at supporting the driver and front passenger. The previous generation featured the back section from the Recaro Sport seats, but the bottom section seemed to be a unit straight out of the plain Lancer, albeit with upholstery treatment to match the back section. The new Recaros have real thigh bolsters, which should work well when things get more curvy and dicey. What’s the tradeoff for the new seats? Whereas the previous generation’s seats have a hard plastic backing, the new Recaros are just “draped” in a vinyl cloth. Blame the beancounters for this one.
  • Gone is the carbon rear spoiler from the CT9A. The X features a spoiler made entirely of… plastic.
  • HVAC controls are now automatic. You can set a desired cabin temp and let the system work its magic. This is nice and all, but the control dials look and feel rather cheap.
  • There are no apparent gauges for water temp, voltage, boost or any other useful parameters. To see some of this information, you have to scroll through the digital information display situated between the tach and speedometer. At the minimum, water temp and fuel level should be visible at all times.
  • The seating position feels high and there are no controls for seat height – this is an on-going gripe of mine about most Japanese cars; the Europeans do a better better job of accomodating tall AND average sized drivers, whereas anyone taller than 5’10” face a rather high seating position in Japanese vehicles. Since there are some electronic tidbits situated under the driver’s and front passenger seats – I’m assuming these are the amps and related components for the sound system – there’s no way to modify the seat bracket to lower the seating position. Unless you relocate all those electronic tidbits, that is.

Driving Impressions

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As our friend, current Mazda engineer & former Sport Compact Car editor Dave Coleman said at the new Evo’s launch, “You buy this car for what’s forward of the firewall.” Indeed, the Evo has been known to deliver outrageous performance in a compact 4-door platform for a relatively reasonable price. The CE9A (first generation, I to III), CP9A (second generation, IV to VI) and CT9A (third generation, VII to IX) have not only been the foundation for street performance but for motorsports as well, ranging from the WRC to the Tsukuba time attack in Japan. In addition to the completely new powerplant, the 4B11, the Evo X MR brings two completely new features to the table – the TC-SST sequential manual transmission and the addition of Super AYC to Stateside cars, resulting in what is dubbed “All Wheel Control,” also known as AWC.

The 4B11 is a departure from the 4G63 engine that has been used for all three previous generations of the Evo. Whereas the older engine’s foundation was based on a cast iron block, the new engine is based on an aluminum block design. Surely, the 4G63T was built to withstand boost way beyond what comes from the factory due to its stout nature, whereas lighter weight was the greater focus of the 4B11. Although not as stout as the older engine – which can be easily solved by throwing in some machining and sleeves – the new engine does give better weight distribution and balance in the CZ4A chassis. And the 4B11 is no slouch either, producing greater horsepower and torque figures out of the box.evo_x_engine_shot

Behind the wheel, the 4B11 produces plenty of power from down low. The engine doesn’t seem to require as much revs as the 4G63 to start putting the power down, which proves well for quick getaways from a standing or rolling start. And it pulls decently to its 7k rev limit, although it seems to start running out of gas in the high end of the rev spectrum when compared to the 4G63. Whereas the X unwinds with smooth boost, the IX is much more raw, pushing you back in the seat with greater urgency and impact. Obviously, the boost characteristics of the X is in line with the more “mature” driving feel Mitsubishi engineers were shooting for. Perhaps opening up the intake side of the equation would alleviate this bit of a “choking” feeling on the top end.

The new power delivery characteristics are augmented by the incredibly capable TC-SST transmission in the X MR. With three modes to choose from – “Normal,” Sport and S-Sport – the driver is given the choice of throttle response and aggressiveness in the shifting. “Normal” mode seemed to be best for lugging the car around town with traffic, whereas sport mode engaged with a quick flick of the toggle switch, immediately changing the behavior of the X. Personally speaking, I found S-Sport mode to be to my liking, with its quick throttle response and ultra-quick shifting.

Two qualities bothered me a bit, although they don’t take away from the driving experience itself. First, in order to engage S-Sport mode, you must come to a complete stop and push and hold the toggle switch for a few seconds. I imagine that this is designed to prevent potential damage to the sequential system, but not having all your missiles at the ready is rather disappointing. Second, even if you have engaged Sport or S-Sport mode, the car reverts back to Normal mode once you shut off and restart the car. This is not a shortcoming I have just for the Evo, however. The Nissan GT-R and Lexus IS-F are two vehicles that come immediately to mind that possess what I deem to be a nuisance. The driver should have control over the car, not the car have control over the driver and what he wants to do.

All small niggles aside, the combination of the 4B11 engine and TC-SST transmission is quite a convincing one, and completing the circle of performance is the new Super AWC system. It combines Super AYC (Active Yaw Control; first time in a Stateside Evo – adds side-to-side torque transfer ability to the rear wheels translating more cornering capability; similiar to Honda’s SH system), ACD (Active Center Differential), ASC (Active Stability Control) and ABS braking into one.

Simply put, the Super AYC system works. As the biggest handling difference between the US Evo IX, it allows the driver to push the throttle harder and earlier out of the apex. And you can watch S-AYC at work in the central display located between the tach and speedo. Even with the softer Bilstein suspension and higher ride height, it inspired just as much, if not more, confidence through the corners than a modified Evo IX. Some may argue that such electronic aids don’t help the driver in improving his skills, but anything to get you through a corner faster and SAFER is a plus in my book.

The stock Brembo braking system does a good job of bringing the Evo down to zero. While this set up is more than adequate for most drivers out there, the persistent “squishy” feeling under heavy braking is a carry-over from the Evo IX. Whether it’s late braking on the track or a panic stop on the freeway, the stock Brembo pad compound just doesn’t inspire a whole lot of confidence. As done with the in-house Evo IX, a change of pads, lines and fluid will do wonders for more spirited braking maneuvers. Or if your wallet allows – and to generate “oooohs” and “ahhhhs” from your friends – upgrade the system altogether to a number of aftermarket brake systems listed below. It will transform the Evo X into something completely different in a way that words cannot describe.

Finally, the wheel & tire combination on the X MR is great right out of the box. The Advan (Yokohama) 13C is a dry weather UHP (ultra high performance) tire that provides excellent traction on tarmac. Although the life expectancy of such a gummy tire is rather low, this is a price that any performance minded car enthusiast would not mind paying. And the 18″ forged BBS wheels, unique to the Evo X, is a strong, lightweight wheel that really does not need to be upgraded for performance reasons.

The Competition

It’s rather difficult to compare the Evo X to the Subaru WRX STi, as they seemed to have gone in different direction with the current iterations. Whereas the Subie has transformed itself into a 5-door hatch, resembling a downsized Lexus RX-series SUV, the Evo maintains its 4-door sedan heritage. And has upped the ante a bit with a more user-friendly, pseudo entry level luxury vibe.

Considering the new approach of the Evo, we can only compare it to some of the 4-door sports sedans out there in the low- to mid-40k range. Having spent extensive seat time in all 4 of these vehicles, it’s hard to place the Evo X in the same class. Why? It’s just a different beast altogether. There is a greater emphasis on luxury, refinement and finish / materials in the Audi, BMW and Lexus. It’s hard to imagine that a person in the market for an entry-level luxury sports sedan would put the Evo X under consideration. Sure, Mitsubishi has made its bid with more features and gizmos inside but the execution honestly falls short of what its competitors have to offer. And although the Subaru WRX STi could be considered its closest competitor, the Evo and the Subie seemed to have traveled in different directions with the current offerings.

Conclusions

The 10th iteration of the venerable turbocharged sedan has lived up to the legacy established by 9 iterations before it. It offers an incredible driving experience with a greater level of refinement. Whether you are a current Evo VIII or IX owner, or interested in a kick-in-the-crotch level of performance with room to spare in the back, there’s really nothing that comes close to what this Mitsubishi has to offer.

Having said that, we would highly recommend that you opt for the GSR version instead. The TC-SST transmission is great, but it seriously limits aftermarket options if you plan to further “evolutionize” the car. And there’s no telling how much power this sequential manual can handle before it gives up the ghost. At an MSRP of over $41,000 for our loaded MR test car, that is $8,000 on top of what you’d pay for a base GSR, based on MSRP. Yet, the base GSR in question will still have the same potent 4B11 engine, the superb Super-AWC system, Brembo brakes (sans the two-piece front rotor) and the same gummy Yokohama Advan tires (although they will be mounted to slightly heavier cast Enkei wheels). $8,000 is a lot of money that could be spent on aftermarket performance components to spruce up the X GSR to your liking.

Notes

– We achieved an average of 20mpg on mixed city & highway driving, which is not Yaris efficient, but quite good considering we were mashing the throttle every chance we got.

-We thank Mitsubishi engineers for keeping the shift paddles mounted to the steering column, rather than the steering wheel.

– Our baseline for comparison, a mildly modified Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution IX MR, features:

Sourcebox

Mitsubishi Motors North America, Inc.
PO Box 6014
Cypress, CA 90630-0014
(866) 876-3018

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